You just opened an email telling you that one of your colleagues has unexpectedly died this morning. Massive stroke. You swear aloud. It’s the second person this week. The other person was the mother of a friend and, although she died after a long fight against cancer, it still came as a shock.
You start pacing your living room. You know that there’s this other colleague who is also fighting cancer and who also appears to be losing. You know that there’s this other friend who had a massive stroke some years ago, who survived, but who could have another one anytime despite medical treatment.
It’s night, obviously. Bad news and sudden emotional distress tend to do that: they wait for the night so they can scare you out of your wits in the dark.
You feel suddenly surrounded by Death. You can feel the cold. You can see its shadow looming behind the dark windows. If you were a tad irrational, you wouldn’t want to open those windows for fear of it coming in.
People are right there, and then the next day they’re not. You wouldn’t believe it when you look at your photographs of them. These days, when you take a picture with dozens of millions of pixels in it, or a 1080p Full HD video, you get impressions of people that are so vivid, so much more real than their real self, so sharp and crisp on those Retina screens, that you forget they can just fade away and disappear.
And someday, they do.
You open the fridge. Apple juice. You pour yourself a glass of apple juice. You take your glass and don’t take your first sip as you usually do. Your mind is racing. Suddenly you want to hug every significant person in your life. How much time is there left? Is it the start of a series? How much should you enjoy that glass of apple juice?
A disapproving shake of your own head tells these thoughts to show themselves out. Next thing you know, you might refuse to open the windows.
You take your first sip. You’re back in the living room and you’re not alone. There’s a person, a significant person sitting there and reading. That person is pretty much alive. That person has hopes and doubts as well. That person is alive and, as we all should, that person is living. For that person, your being alive matters. Your living matters. Your smile, your hopes and your doubts matter.
You start talking. Of this and that; a pressure of your hand on that person’s shoulder is enough to say what you are not saying: that this matters immensely to you too — this: this moment, being alive, living.
Life is a practical being. Do we have any leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch boxes? Did I print that document out for the students? We’re out of toothpaste.
This time, you had it easy: this was not your mother; this was not your close friend or significant other. So right now, you’re escaping most of the mourning.
We’re not made to mourn. There’s no telling in advance how long that process will take upon losing someone. But someday, the mourning person may wake up wondering about their lunchbox. Or swearing aloud because they forgot to print out that document. Or craving an evening watching that movie, with those friends.
Guilt might creep in. What about the late, the deceased, the passed-away? But this might be the best for them: living for two. Being alive in their stead. Remembering them and celebrating what you wish they could still enjoy. Over death, choosing life.
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